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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                    127

they did not, it would not matter, he simply wanted to
give expression to his feelings.

Alexei Meresyev spent his monotonous days at the
hospital in bitter reflection. And although his iron
constitution had borne the skilfully performed amputation
easily and the wounds healed quickly, he grew perceptib-
ly weaker, and in spite of all the measures taken to
counteract this, everybody saw that he was pining away
and wasting more and more every day.

Meanwhile, spring was surging outside.
It forced itself into ward forty-two, into this room
that reeked of iodoform. It came through the window,
bringing the cool, humid breath of melting snow, the
excited twittering of the sparrows, the merry, ringing
whoop of the street-cars as they turned the corner, the
resounding footsteps on the now snow-free asphalt and, in
the evening—the low, monotonous strains of an accordion.
It peeped through the side window out of which could be
seen a sunlit branch of a poplar-tree on which longish
buds covered with a yellowish gum were swelling. It came
into the ward in the form of the golden freckles on the
kind, pale face of Klavdia Mikhailovna, defying every
type of face powder, and causing the nurse no little an-
noyance. It persistently drew attention to itself by the
merry drumming of heavy drops of moisture on the tin-
covered outside windowsills.
As always, the spring softened hearts and awakened
dreams.
"Ah, it would be nice to be in some forest clearing
with a gun now, wouldn't it, Stepan Ivanovich?" mused
the Commissar longingly. "To lie in wait for game, in a
shack, at dawn ... can anything be nicer? You know—the
rosy dawn, crisp and a little frosty, and you are sitting
there. Suddenly—gl-gl-gl, and the flutter of wings—few-
few-few. ... Aiid it perches over your head—tail spread
out like a fan—and then comes a second, and a third----"
Stepan Ivanovich heaved a deep sigh and made a
sucking noise as if his mouth were watering, but the Com-
missar went on indulging in his dream: